Holiday Memories

With Christmas 2021 only a few hours behind us, the day made me think back to some of my childhood celebrations of the season. Christmas, as for most children, was always a magical time of the year. The notion of Santa Claus was not something that I bought into for a lengthy time, perks of an older brother I suppose, but I still very much enjoyed the holiday. Of course, being young and all, I loved the gifts I received. Christmas meant new toys, usually some of the toys that I wanted for months but were told were “too expensive” or “you don’t need that.” And like most kids, I didn’t truly understand or appreciate Christmas until I was older.

These days, my wife and I host Christmas at our house for her family and mine. Granted, not at the same time but Christmas Day is full of our immediate families. We start the morning off with just she and I, our kids, and their growing families. We wake up early, open presents, and then clean up the mess we made. And every year it sparks memories of me on Christmas morning. Barely able to contain my excitement. Eager to get my parents out of bed without realizing how late into the night they must have worked to get things ready. The absolute chaos and insanity that followed when we finally all came together in the living room surrounded by our packages and gifts. As I watch my kids open their gifts through my sleepy eyes, I can finally understand why my parents weren’t as excited as I was at 7am.

After our family Christmas in the early morning hours, we do a complete reset. We clean our house from the morning’s gifts, haul off trash bags full of discarded wrapping paper, demolished boxes, and instruction manuals that someone will eventually regret not keeping. Immediately following that, we start cooking. My wife’s family has had for years a tradition of them all coming together to do Christmas over breakfast. The cooking duties are shared between the adults and the kids get to play, eat, and open their gifts after seeing what “Santa” brought them. In the years past, Christmas breakfast was usually in the “party barn” that sat between the houses on our compound so that no one family had to clean or a single house was crammed full of people. But with our new house, my wife and I have taken to hosting events. Our house is not that large but it gets the job done and with better insulation and temperature control than the barn.

Then, once the breakfast is done, we start cleaning everything all over again. Another round of trash is hauled off, the kitchen is cleaned up, dishes washed, and things are put away. By this time it is afternoon and also nap time. We tend to stay up until 2-3am stuffing stockings, wrapping last minute gifts, cleaning, etc., in preparation for Christmas Day so by lunchtime, we are usually worn out.

After a brief nap, its time to start getting ready for the final experience of the day, my family. My family comes to the house for an early dinner and gifts. We use to all go to my mother’s house every year for this dinner but as time marched on and things evolved for us, my wife offered to take over that tradition and my mother quickly leapt at the offer, likewise for Thanksgiving.

Just like with breakfast, the different family members bring different dishes or components for the meal and we all enjoy good food, good company, and gifts. This year the menu was fajitas. By the end of the night, everyone starts to disperse after a full day of family and holiday cheer. We’ll straighten up the house a bit but by the end of the day, we are usually too tired to clean everything. The food is put away and the key items are cleaned but go to bed after a long day and wait until the morning after to finish cleaning. The day after Christmas is our annual lazy day, once the remaining cleaning has been largely completed.

We bought our new house 3 years ago and my wife was excited to make new memories in our new house by hosting parties and holidays. Since the day we’ve moved in, that’s what we have set out to do and we have accomplished. I know that we will be look back over the years at the memories we’ve made with our children and hopefully they will look back fondly at these memories too.

But this year, we had my 80-something year-old grandmother here with us. Due to health issues, we’ve not been able to have her with us much in the last few years. She is the last surviving member of either of my parent’s families from that generation. She is now a great-great grandmother and is very happy to have lived to achieve such a status. Seeing her celebrate Christmas with us this year made me reflect back on the many Christmases we had with her and my grandfather growing up.

Due to the size of our family and the challenge of celebrating multiple Christmases on the same day, my grandparents always had their Christmas the Sunday before Christmas. We would go to their house in town and spend the majority of the day playing with our cousins, watching football on TV, and eating. My grandfather was a BBQ master and excellent chef so the food was always delicious.

I can still remember some of the gifts I received on those Christmases even though my grandfather has been gone for over 20 years and its been nearly 30 years since our last Christmas at their house. But more than the gifts, each time I walk into their house, regardless of the time of year, I am flooded with memories and images of from those days of so long ago. The fireplace in the living room with its crackling fires, the pictures we all took in front of it, the crowded house from everyone being there together, and those of us who enjoyed football all sitting around watching the games.

My Uncle Harvey loves football. He ref’d high school football for years but he and my aunt had only daughters. Luckily, one of my cousins brought home a very nice young man who also loved football. She would later marry Brian who would join Uncle Harvey wearing the stripes of a referee. Brian joined us for Christmas at my grandparent’s house for a few years before the tradition stopped.

I miss those days. My wife and I have talked about resurrecting the tradition to see about getting a lot of us back together for the holidays on the Sunday before. Not for exchanging gifts or anything but just to have everyone together. It’d be nice to have one last BIG family Christmas before my grandmother passes. Perhaps that can be a goal for next year.

And while I have all of the memories and more from Christmases past, with each year that passes all I want to create similar memories for our kids. They may not remember the gifts they get from one year to the next but I hope that as they grow older and their families continue to grow that they will look back at these holidays with us and think fondly of them. I hope that as my wife and I get too old to keep hosting holidays that they will remember these days and want to recreate them for their families by hosting the holidays in their homes, all in an effort to make memories for their kids like we do ours, like our parents did for us, and so on.

It is only when you become adults, and maybe even parents, that the holidays take on a different meaning than from childhood. As our kids transition from one to the other, I hope they come to appreciate all that we do for them as we’ve come to appreciate all that our parents did for us to create magical holiday memories for us.

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